NFL gives significant funding to help youth ‘Shred’ the burden of concussion

Ash Kolstad was 12-years old when his head hit the boards after he was checked from behind during a hockey game resulting in a severe concussion and whiplash. The injury forced the honour student to leave school for one year and quit the sport. Nearly a decade later, he still suffers symptoms every day.

“It altered my life,” says Kolstad, now a patient-engaged student researcher in the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of Calgary. “This research is really important because it sheds light on the impact of concussion and will help provide families with the most current and accurate information which is reassuring to them.”

Youth account for more than half of the annual burden of more than three million concussions annually in North America. The University of Calgary has received $12 million CDN from the National Football League’s scientific advisory board for a pan-Canadian research program, led by Dr. Carolyn Emery, PT PhD, researcher in the Faculty of Kinesiology, to reduce concussions and their consequences in youth sport on a national level.

Through the NFL’s Play Smart. Play Safe. initiative, this round, $35 million USD in funding was allotted to five institutions in North America for medical research, primarily dedicated to neuroscience. The University of Calgary is the only institution in Canada to receive funding.

Novel research

Led by Dr. Emery, PT PhD, the program, SHRed Concussions, short for Surveillance in High Schools to Reduce Concussions and Consequences of Concussions in Youth, will provide a national platform for concussion surveillance in high schools to evaluate novel and sustainable solutions for concussion prevention that will have significant impact in reducing the risk of sport-related concussions and their consequences in youth.

“This is an exciting and truly a Pan-Canadian research initiative aimed to reduce the burden of concussions in youth sport nationally,” says Dr. Emery, who chairs The Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre in the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of Calgary, which is one of 10 International Research Centres for the Prevention of Injury and Protection of Athlete Health supported by the International Olympic Committee.

Collaboration across Canada

The SHRed Concussions research team includes more than 35 researchers representing nine Canadian universities and more than 30 community, government and industry partners, and research includes a variety of youth sports, including ice hockey, rugby, football, lacrosse, wrestling, soccer, basketball, volleyball and cheerleading.

Drs. Kelly Russell and Michael Ellis, researcher scientists at the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba (CHRIM), are part of the SHRed Concussions research team. Dr. Russell will be leading the research conducted at the University of Manitoba. “This a very exciting opportunity to work with concussion experts across Canada to better understand youth sport-related concussion,” says Dr. Russell, CHRIM scientist and Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics and Child Health, University of Manitoba. “This funding will support the development, implementation and evaluation of novel and sustainable approaches to concussion identification, prevention and management through rule changes, equipment recommendations, training strategies, and new treatment opportunities.”

“We are very pleased to partner with Dr. Emery and an extraordinary team of national leaders in concussion research, clinical care and public health policy to embark on this important pan-Canadian study on adolescent concussion,” says Dr. Ellis, Medical Director, Pan Am Concussion Program and Co-Director, Canada North Concussion Network. “The results of this study will provide important insight into the epidemiology, diagnosis, management and prevention of concussion and provide valuable information on how we can improve youth sport safety in Canada.”

The funding will assist in establishing and validating injury surveillance in high schools to “SHRed Concussions,” integrating a variety of tools to detect concussion, predict recovery, and inform best practice and policy in the prevention and management of concussions in youth sport.

“This extensive and groundbreaking research and subsequent education will allow for a positive change in the way coaches coach. It will set up the next generation of youth to enjoy a lower incidence of injury in sports, less injury downtime, and in turn, a lower drop-out rate in school and community sport across Canada,” says John Paton, Executive Director, Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association and Past-President of School Sport Canada.

People ask Kolstad if he is resentful about the recommendations he received at the time of his concussion, which one coach referred to as “just a bump on his head.”

“Concussion was not as well understood a few years ago, concussion research has come a long way,” says Kolstad. “I’m not resentful, I’m just glad it led me to concussion research that will help others.”